How to Transform Sadness, Rage and Righteous Anger
There’s a psychological theory offered by Freud that “depression is anger turned inward.” That notion comes from Freud’s paper “Mourning and Melancholia.” With scientific leaps in understanding the brain, that theory about the relationship between anger and depression continues to be debated and questioned.
Personal experience resolved that debate and those questions for Leslie Jamison, who for years declared that she wasn’t angry, she was sad. Jamison describes this change in perspective in her New York Times article, “I Used to Insist I Don’t Get Angry. Not Any More. On Female Rage.” Personal experiences made her stop believing her own routine comments about not being angry. She began to admit that she felt anger simmering under the sadness.
Signs of Rage
Jamison says she remembers cutting up a sofa when she was four years old because she wanted to destroy something. When she was 16 and her boyfriend broke up with her, she cut the inside of her own ankle. At 34 she had a fight with her husband and threw her cell phone across the room. When she was teaching, she came upon an unexpectedly large number of cases of female students who reported sexual harassment. She reached a tipping point about her own reactions to these situations. She says she admitted her emotion: “It was rage.”
Nice Women Don’t Get Angry
The criticism and characterization of angry women is not pretty. Jamison points out archetypes like the witch casting spells.The playwright William Congreve wrote in a 1697 play, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
University of California Berkeley psychology professor Ann Kring reviewed studies of gender and anger in 2000 and found women felt more shame and embarrassment after an anger episode than men. Kring found people use words like “bitchy” and “hostile” to describe angry women, while many tend to describe an angry man as “strong.” Men more often tend to express their anger verbally or physically, while women frequently express anger by crying, which can add to the perception of “sadness.”
How to Use Anger for Positive Change
There are instances when “righteous anger” applies. Anger is a natural human reaction to injustice and cruelty. Anger is a survival mechanism. A response of anger can be used to change personal behavior, perhaps by working with a psychotherapist to understand the triggers and figure out when anger is appropriate. Some criticisms or unintended slurs in personal communication may be things to acknowledge and let pass by. When change is necessary, a therapist may offer guidance on healthy ways to respond to anger. The energy of anger might be transformed to make a positive change in personal or social behavior.
Once Jamison acknowledged her own anger, she transformed it to action. “Confronting my own aversion to anger asked me to shift from seeing it simply as an emotion to be felt, and toward understanding it as a tool to be used, part of a well-stocked arsenal,” she says. For example, she walked in the Women’s March in Washington, a public commentary on her part that some things affecting women need to change and she’s going be part of that change. Anger, she says, “demands that something happen.”
Anger in Response to Unnecessary Tragedy
There’s a dramatic tragedy that’s aroused anger in the teenage girls and boys who survived the massacre of 14 students and three faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14. A former classmate, who authorities now say showed many warning signs, like posting on social media that he was going to be “a professional school shooter,” got into the school with an assault weapon. In this tragic situation, girls and boys are seething with anger because it could have been prevented. The students’ rage is described in an article in The Atlantic, “The Righteous Anger of the Parkland Shooting’s Teen Survivors.”
“I don’t want your condolences, you #!*” one student named Sarah tweeted to President Donald Trump. “My friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But gun control will prevent it from happening again.”
These students are sad, but they are also filled with rage at the bloodbath that came down upon these innocents, those who were murdered and those who survived to live with the sadness and who now are impassioned to work for change.
So while Jamison has acknowledged that her previous sadness was laced with anger, perhaps it’s time to take a deeper look at the similarities and differences of how men and women handle anger. The steadily increasing demand for equality of the sexes, and acceptance of gender choices, may eventually lead this nation’s girls and boys, men and women, to join together to understand the anger that may be in all of us at one time or another, and use it to make positive change in our personal lives and in our nation.
Jamison, Leslie, “I Used to Insist I Don’t Get Angry. Not Any More. On Female Rage,” The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 17, 2018
Brown, Walter A., “Was Freud Right?” Brown University alumni magazine, November/December 2004
Meyer, Robinson, “The Righteous Anger of the Parkland Shooting’s Teen Survivors,” The Atlantic, Feb. 17, 2018